The boss of one of the leading car manufacturers has voiced his concerns at the idea of a total ban on combustion engines. Speaking at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Carlos Tavares, the head of PSA Peugeot Citroen and Vauxhall/Opel, has accused governments of putting the entire car industry at risk with their plans to focus almost solely on electric vehicles as the cars of the future.

Jobs at risk

In his speech, Tavares stated that governments dictating technology will create considerable strife within the motor industry. More than that, it will put finances and jobs at risk. It could even lead to new health and safety issues that future governments will be solely responsible for.

He said that we are moving from a “technology neutral era” to an “instruction to go electric.” This shift is at the expense of other technologies, such as the highly efficient PSA Hybrid Air system. The focus on only electric vehicles puts the scientific responsibility firmly into the hands of governments. As such, if in two or three decades, there are problems with health or safety issues due to this switch to electric, governments will need to face the consequences of their narrow outlook.

Unsustainable industry

The Portuguese car boss also criticised the current heavily subsidised market for electric cars. He argued that this is a poor basis for dictating their adoption. It could risk profitability and therefore jobs for car manufacturers. In fact, Tavares went so far as to say that it could even impact the sustainability of the entire motor industry:

“If you have ministers in Europe who say they will forbid the use of internal combustion engines, then I have to comply and we will have to transform, re-engineer and retrain. But if electrification is not profitable in future, we all have a problem,”

He also called for a wider debate on the question of the forced move to electric cars from an affordability perspective. Electric vehicles cost more than their petrol or diesel equivalents, meaning that fewer people could be able to afford a car in future. This is a much wider social issue and one that should be open for discussion.

Practical concerns

In addition to worries about the overall effect of the switch to electric, others are more concerned about the practical concerns associated with electric cars. One example is the question of what we should do with the lithium-ion batteries in cars once they run out. Tiny lithium-ion batteries are in use in many devices and already use a lot of resources – around $2 billion in metals and minerals in 2015 alone. Most of these end up in landfill sites or sit unused in devices around the home.

The battery in a car is obviously much bigger and will last a lot longer. However, there is still a suspected limit of around 8-10 years for each battery. This will mean that the already spiralling demand for the components for these batteries will rapidly increase as more electric cars reach the road. This will increase prices for raw materials. Cobalt, for example, has risen 80% in the last year. It also raises the question of how we dispose of batteries that have reached the end of their life without negatively impacting the environment.

Power infrastructure

The other big consideration is the infrastructure needed to power these cars. Estimates say that billions will be needed to create new power plants, grid network and charging points for electric vehicles. Some predict local power shortages when the ban on petrol and diesel cars come into force.

Overnight charging should make the process more manageable, but there is still a lot of work to be done if electric cars are going to become the dominant force on the UK’s roads.

 

Is government policy pushing us towards electric vehicles when we should be considering other options? Will the car industry – and the power grid – be able to cope with the mass electrification of our cars? As ever, share your views below. 

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